Ask A Ghostwriter– The Writers Conference Part #1

Aug 15, 2019 | News and Notes, Tips and How To

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The 2019 Willamette Writers Conference is finally over.

Uhm, hold on, wait just a moment…

No, I was right the first time. The doors of the Portland Airport Sheraton are at last closed. The faculty has all flown home.

It’s good bye till 2020 time.

I joke, in part, because of my role in putting on the 2019 Willamette Writer’s Conference. After thirteen years as an attendee, volunteer and recent member of the faculty, I graduated to the position of conference co-chair.

This position meant that, starting in February of this year, I was working on the conference. I was part of making decisions choosing faculty, deciding on programming tracks and organizing events. My co-chair, Kirstin Fulton and I, working under the wing of the Willamette Writers Executive Director Kate Ristau made almost every decision small and large.

After six months embroiled in that kind of process, seeing the event come and go is like losing a fond but stressful part of my life.

As tired and reflective as the last half of a year has left me, I have come out of it feeling quite invigorated. In my work as a ghostwriter, editor and manuscript consultant I get one kind of reward. But getting the chance at giving upwards of 500 writers an event to launch, establish and build their career on was transformative and inspirational.

Those dozen years of previous experience has taught me one thing. Getting the most out of your writers conference experience isn’t usually a matter of luck. It is a matter of preparation. It is elbow grease. It is gumption.

As a matter of context, before working on the 2019 Willamette Writer’s Conference, the largest event I had ever planned was my own wedding.

That was 150 people. It was basically one event, a lot of pretty good wine, one expensive cake and we’re off.

If I’m really being honest, too, my wife planned most of our wedding. When she struggled, she was backed by one of our mothers.

Even when that came up short, there is a whole massive industry around wedding planning. You can hardly slip up in the process.

Working on the Willamette Writers Conference, my team had help. We had an organization with relationships. We had history and a vision.

But on a cold, rainy March evening, everything feels really ephemeral. Do we want Scott Myers to come teach screenwriting again? Yes? Better make sure he’s free that weekend.

Three evening keynote speeches? Can we get Jeff Goins?

There was a whole lot of guess work and a measure of chaos. Those fraught moments were backed up by rampant spasms of uncertainty.

However, everything came together.

As of this writing, two weeks have passed since the event ended. That is enough time and distance in the rearview mirror to have perspective.

I firmly believe in the writers conference experience. I really do. I believe that a writer can get from here to there (which are obviously different markers for everyone who picks up the pen) without walking through the hotel doors, but really, I think conferences make that process a lot easier.

You get a chance to meet your tribe. You firm up the things that you knew. You walk away learning entirely new principles.

You get to drink in a bar, pitch stories and get a laugh.

I am going to take some time over my next few Ask A Ghostwriter blogs to discuss how to get the most out of your writers conference experience. There are some tips, perspectives and ideas you may want to know.

Before then though, before I’m done writing this one, I want to boldly say, go pick up a writer’s magazine. Ask a colleague on Twitter. Look in your local writer’s board and find a writers conference for you and try it out.

I hardly think you’ll regret it.